Thursday 24 October 2019

Scheme rewards activism and voluntary groups

Groups share €260,000 in grant aid

Ciara Galvin

From bee keeping to men's sheds and everything in between, community groups from across Sligo Municipal District gathered at City Hall recently.

Sixty eight community groups gathered in recognition of their work and the Community Enhancement Programme which provided grant aid for their projects.

A total of €260,000 was divided up between the groups through the new programme part of the Capital Grant Scheme.

Addressing the large audience, Jude Mannion said the event was to acknowledge and recognise each group who received grant aid, and to acknowledge the work that they do within their communities.

Speaking to The Sligo Champio at the event, Mr Mannion explained the Community Enterprise Programme was 'the first of its type' in many areas.

Mr Mannion explained that unlike other schemes, this one did not demand groups to pour over intricate application forms in order to receive grant funding.

"The Department (of Rural and Community Development) said they wanted to make this scheme very light on administration so it was only a four page form. We just looked for a few quotes and a general idea of what people were doing."

The Director added that the department did not want to put 'undue burden' on community groups who were already volunteering their time.

"The focus was to try and spread this €260,000 as wide as we could across the county, impacting as many groups as we could. Everyone got an average of €2,000, some got €5,000 and some just got a minimum of €1,000. The key thing for us is we were able to reach into areas we hadn't been able to effect before."

Mannion explained that in the case of Calry Active Retirement Association who had sought help before but resources were unavailable, had now received funding for a polytunnel.

Chris Davis of the Association told those gathered that thanks to funding, the group now has a fit for purpose polytunnel.

"We started a garden project three years ago in Calry, with just two people and now it's progressed to ten people. We applied to the county council for funding, because the polytunnel was 14 years old and we heard about the funding opportunity.

Chris explained that the benefits of the group were numerous.

"We find for older people it's very therapeutic and good for their mental health. It's a social activity as well and they find out what's happening in their community."

For Strandhill Community Development Association funding has aided the group to develop the tourism product, according to David McCoy.

"Our project started with Sligo LEADER and the council to develop different walking routes around Strandhill, Classiebawn is one. Following on from that we wanted to develop seating areas. It seems something small but it is developing a tourism product and we couldn't have done it without this"

Chairperson of the Sligo Local Community Development Committee, Sinead Maguire commended those present for being 'community activists'.

Cllr Maguire stressed that at the heart of the committee she chairs was community.

"Part of our work in the LCDC is to approve and prepare a six-year local community economic plan. What we try to do in that plan is to look at measures in how we tackle poverty and disadvantage. We support enterprise, training and employment and we develop community enterprise, while also promoting community development in our county," she explained.

Having oversight of local expenditure, Sinead outlined how important it was for the committee to develop a 'bottom up' approach.

"It's looking at how local authorities spend their money on behalf of local development agencies and the state, and how we can better put that into the community."

Cllr Maguire told the group, "You know how to spend it best. People on the ground know how to get more bang for their buck and that's part of our role.

"We try to optimise resources for the benefit of all communities across the entire county."

The Fine Gael councillor said the funding was designed to be allotted to those who needed it most and outlined that it benefitted all manner of groups and disciplines.

Mark Elliott of Cranmore Community Co-op Society explained that funding had facilitated the accessibility to a defibrillator.

"We were donated a defibrillator but we had limited access to it, just between 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Through the help of the LCDC we were able to purchase a storage unit for it, a security system for that and a host phone.

He added: "Now should a call go into the ambulance service, they send a message to the host phone we have, which will relay a message out to our nine responders."

Looking ahead to funding for 2019, the Director of Community and Economic Development, Mr Mannion, said it is hoped the scheme would run earlier this year due to it being an election year.

"There's such a range of projects around the county. Ideally we'd like to have €500,000, but we had what we had.

"The Department said they would run it again this year, possibly earlier because it's an election year, but we'd hope the same groups would benefit again," he concluded.

Sligo Champion